Special Education Miranda Warning

© Helene Souza

© Helene Souza

Parents! You have rights!

I know that parents receive a copy of their Parental Rights and Safeguards at every IEP meeting, but I don’t know how many of them actually read it. Perhaps what we need instead is a sort of special education parental rights Miranda warning, beginning with “You have the right to refuse changes” and encompassing “No special education administrator shall amend an IEP without the agreement of the entire IEP team.”

Today, we got a phone call from our son’s school, which ended for the summer yesterday. Our son has high-functioning autism and a fairly detailed IEP. Next year he will be making the transition to middle school, of which there are two in our city. Neither has a program for children with autism.

I’ve been expecting some difficulty in transitioning and translating his IEP services to a new school, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon. The special education teacher on the other end of the phone wanted to change 120 minutes of 1:1 instructional support on my son’s IEP to “guidance services.”  My husband’s response was exactly right:

Absolutely not. Not only aren’t those comparable services, but changes in the IEP need to be a team decision. We would like to request an IEP meeting before school begins to discuss how to implement his current IEP. If there’s no program in place, then you’ll have to create one to meet his IEP.

When I called back to confirm that I wouldn’t approve any changes, I was told that the initial request to change the plan came from the IEP coordinator at the incoming school, a teacher who has never met my son and, until we have a transition meeting, is not a part of the current team.

What worries me is the thought of all the parents who fielded a similar phone call and didn’t know they could say “No.”

For those parents, I offer up the following Special Education Miranda:

  • You have the right to refuse any changes to your child’s IEP.

  • Any changes that are being proposed need to be approved by the entire IEP team.

  • You have the right to an IEP team that consists of decision-makers who have met, worked with, evaluated or been transitioned in as case manager for your child.

  • All services will be need-driven, based on the reasonable proven supports and instruction your child needs to access a Free Appropriate Public Education.

  • No services that have been deemed necessary shall be denied on the basis of school district staffing concerns or budgetary issues.

  • You are encouraged to take notes of any non-documented communication between you and the school.

  • If you do not understand these rights or feel they are being violated, you should ask questions until you do understand or contact a disability rights advocate.

In our case, we will wait and see what comes of our request for an IEP meeting and hope for the best. But in the meantime, I’m preparing to fight for my son’s right to learn.

Marathon New York Exams Even Longer for Some Special Education Students

Lots of students with special needs get extra time to take tests, which can be very helpful. But when the tests are particularly long and brutal, like New York State’s newly-implemented marathon of exams, that extra time might not be a benefit after all.

Changes to state tests, which doubled in length this year, are hitting some of the city’s neediest students twice as hard.For students with disabilities who are given more time to complete the tests, testing can stretch as long as three hours on each day of testing. That means the students could spend more than half of the school day — and more than 18 hours total — on state exams this week and next.At I.S. 190 in the Bronx, Maribeth Whitehouse’s self-contained special education class of eighth-graders sat down to their reading exams at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Including the time it took to hand out the test, read directions, and take breaks, her students didn’t close their test books and head to lunch until after 12:30 p.m. — at which point, one student complained, “My legs hurt.”That was just the beginning. The schedule repeated today and will again on Thursday and next week for the state math exam.

via Long tests are even longer for some special education students | GothamSchools.

10 Things to Know About the IEP Process to be a Successful Advocate for Your Child with Autism

1.  A parent can make a referral for special education evaluation at any time. If the school isn’t acting, you can. Ask your school administrator for a referral form and outline your reasons for concern. A meeting will have to be called to look at the referral and discuss what types of educational testing would be most appropriate to evaluate your concerns about your child’s educational performance.

2.  A school must provide you with Prior Written Notice at least 10 days before proposing or refusing to make changes in identification, placement or evaluation for special education services.  In accordance with 14 DE Admin Code § 926.3.2; 14 Del. C. § 3134; 34 C.F.R. § 503(a), the written notice must:

  • Described the proposed action (or refusal)
  • Provide an explanation of why the district is proposing or refusing this action
  • Describe every and each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report used to make the decision
  • Describe  anything else that the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team considered and why those considerations were rejected
  • Describe any other reasons for the proposed action or refusal
  • State that parents of a child with a disability are protected under certain procedural safeguards under the IDEA and DOE and, if not provided, information about how to get a copy of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards
  • Provide a list of resources parents can  contact for help in understanding the regulations

3. Writing an IEP is a team process and you are part of that team. The school district can’t just tell you what’s going to happen to your child. You have a say.

The team consists, at the least, of: an administrator, regular education teacher, special education teacher, parents, evaluators and other service providers.  While an evaluation report and/or a person can make recommendations for services, everyone has to agree on services, goals, accommodations, placement, etc.  If you are not comfortable with what has been decided, you do not have to sign the IEP.

3.  You may be asked to sign a Waiver of Notice Form. If a meeting is scheduled without 10 days prior notice, you may be asked to waive your right to notice. If it’s beneficial to meet as soon as possible, there’s nothing wrong with signing it. There are Waiver of Notice Forms in regard to changes of program, too.

Typically, a school district has seven days to institute a change of placement or a new program. If you wish to waive the right and begin immediately, you can sign a waiver. However, if you’re uncertain about the new changes or the school needs time to hire and train personnel, it’s to your child’s benefit for you not to sign the waiver.

4. You have the right to request an outside evaluation. If you are not in agreement with what the school district’s evaluator had to say in regard to your child, you have the right to request an outside evaluation. Also known as an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), parents are typically responsible for the cost of such an evaluation. The benefit, however, is that the IEP team is required to consider the information and findings of the IEE, just as they would consider an inside evaluation.

5.  Every new evaluation or formal observation needs to be reviewed at a team meeting if it is going to be used to qualify or disqualify your child for services. The school district cannot make changes without everyone sitting down at the table again to consider new information.

6. Even the smallest accommodation should be written into the plan.  Anything that is different than the way a “typical” child would be educated should be documented in the IEP. Many parents make the mistake of agreeing to informal or general accommodations or behavior plans.  Formalize it!  You have no recourse if it is not documented.

7. If it’s in the IEP, it needs to get done. An IEP is a legal document. The school district is responsible for making sure the accommodations, services and aids listed occur. If they do not, the school department is then responsible to provide compensatory services to your child. That means they need to make arrangements to make up the amount of time that was lost for any given service.

8. You can call a meeting at any time, for any reason. Even if your child’s plan is not up for review and there’s no new data to consider, you can call a meeting to discuss concerns. This includes asking for revisions of goals that you think are not going to be met or are unreachable.

9. Don’t be afraid to exercise your right to Due Process. If you feel as though your child’s rights have been violated, you don’t agree with the IEP or that a placement or service has been changed without your consent, you have the right to file for a Due Process Hearing.  Once you file a formal request for hearing, nothing can move forward or be implemented until the complaint is resolved. That means your child’s program will stay as it was with the last IEP until you’ve come to an agreement with the school district.

10.  Know what Manifestation Determination is. Hopefully, you’ll never come across this process. It’s used to determine whether a child’s behavior–one that causes multiple suspensions or expulsion–is or is not related to his  disability.  The team reviews all evidence, files, evaluations and documents to decide this.To determine if it’s related to his disability, the IEP team then has to answer these questions:

  1. Were the services, goals, accommodations and placement in the IEP appropriate?
  2. If yes, were they provided and implemented as written?
  3. Did the child’s disability impair his ability to understand the impact/consequences of his behavior or did it impair his ability to control his behavior in the circumstances being looked at?

If questions 1 and/or 2 can be answered “no,” then the school is at fault and may have to review placement and/or services to make it more appropriate.  If 1 and 2 can be answered “yes” and the other questions answered “no,” then the behavior is not a manifestation of the child’s disability and he will be punished in the same manner as a child without a disability.

Amanda Morin is a parenting and education writer who draws on her 10 years of experience as a kindergarten teacher and early intervention specialist. She worked with and evaluated children with special-needs, taught parenting classes and was a service coordinator for children in therapeutic foster care. Amanda is also mother to three children, ages toddler to teen, one of whom has Asperger Syndrome.

FAQs About IEPs, IFSPs, Section 504 and Qualification for Special Education Services

What’s the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP?

For many students with a “mild” autism disorder, a 504 plan is a first step before an IEP. Section 504 allows schools to put a plan and accommodations in place for a child who has a disability that limits his daily functioning but who doesn’t qualify for special education services.

Section 504 plans have fewer regulations in place, especially in terms of compliance, meaning that under a 504 Plan, your child may not have as much assistance as with an IEP. While it doesn’t replace an IEP, it’s a protection of sorts for a child who has a disability that affects his learning, but doesn’t meet the criteria for special education services. Unfortunately, just having a diagnosis isn’t an automatic qualifier for an IEP–there also has to be proven academic effect.

What’s the benefit of a 504 plan?

If nothing else, having a 504 plan in place protects your child. It’s a way to say “Hey, this child has a documented disability,” so if any issues do arise, the school is already aware they need to respond differently than they might in another situation.

For children with Autism, a 504 plan is often a gateway or placeholder plan until the necessary evaluative data is in place to qualify them for an IEP. If your child has a 504 plan, it’s a good idea to continue to revisit the question of an IEP.  Note: It is rarely a good idea to allow a school district to discontinue an IEP and write a 504 plan instead.

What qualifies my child for an IEP?

You would think it’s simple: Your child has autism, so he qualifies for special education services. Autism is one of the qualifying conditions of the thirteen categories under which special education can be provided. That means your child doesn’t have to have an additional disability to be able to receive special education services.

Unfortunately, there’s more to it than that. Having an evaluation–either by the school district or an outside evaluator-that clearly states your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder is the first hurdle.

The second hurdle is proving that your child’s disability is interfering with his educational performance. This requires evaluating his current performance and abilities. He may undergo a variety of evaluations including psychological testing, a classroom observation, occupational therapy evaluation, etc.

Once the evaluations are completed, the team will sit down to review the information and recommendations and see if your child qualifies under the federal guidelines.

Note:  An important thing to remember as a parent is that your child’s education can be affected without him having academic trouble. If there are behavioral concerns, for whatever reason, that is causing your child to lose learning time in the class (i.e. being sent home, to the principal’s office), his disability is affecting his learning.

My child doesn’t have Autism as a diagnosis (he has Asperger’s Syndrome or PDD, NOS), can his qualifying disability still be Autism?

Yes, any condition that is covered under the Autism Spectrum Disorder umbrella fits into the category of Autism.

What’s the difference between an IFSP and an IEP?

An IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) is the plan that provides for early intervention services between the ages of birth and 3. Typically, an IFSP is family-centered, providing not only direct services for a child with autism, but also services that benefit the whole family. This could be consultation with the early interventionist or other service provider, special transportation or even family training.

An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is an educationally-based plan that provides services for an individual with disabilities from the ages of 3 to 21 (or graduation, whichever comes first). The plan spells out the needs, goals, direct and related services that the student will receive, only as they pertain to his educational needs.

Why does my child have to transition to an IEP?

Because of the way the federal guidelines are written, children with disabilities from the ages of 3 to 5, while not legally required to be in school, become the “responsibility” of the each state’s educational agency. Though each state deals with services differently, the focus changes from family intervention to child-based interventions in areas that are affecting a child’s ability to learn. That means before or on a child’s 3rd birthday, he will need to be transitioned from an IFSP to an IEP.

What does “educational impact”  or “adverse impact” mean?

These terms are both tricky and daunting. In order for a child to receive special education services, it needs to be proven that his disability is having an adverse effect on his learning. At its most basic, the question is: How is this disability impacting the child’s ability to make gains and learn in the regular education classroom or with the regular education curriculum?

Sometimes this is clear cut. Sometimes it’s more difficult. The important thing to keep in mind is that there’s some wiggle room in the concept of adverse impact.

Sure, your child might not be behind the other kids academically, but is he living up to his own achievement potential or is his disability impeding that? Does he need sensory breaks to help calm himself? What happens without them? Does he need a behavior plan to make it through the day? These elements are also necessary considerations when it comes to “educational impact.”

What is the Least Restrictive Environment and how is it determined?

The Least Restrictive Environment, or LRE, is a key principle in making sure every child gets a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The language of the law (IDEA) states that:

“to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities are educated with children who are non-disabled.”

That means that as much as possible, children with disabilities should be receiving their education with their age-appropriate peers. This is sometimes referred to as “mainstreaming” or “inclusionary education.”

It doesn’t mean that your child won’t need modifications to curriculum or assistance accessing the same education, just that he should have the opportunity to receive it in the environment that is as much like a typical classroom as possible.

Sometimes the LRE is not the regular education classroom and that’s okay. It’s all about making sure your child gets the education he’s entitled to and that less restrictive options have been tried first.

Who can I turn to for help if I don’t feel like my child is getting what he needs from the school district?
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your child may not be getting the services you feel he needs to be successful.  There are places you can turn to get help.

  • The National Disability Rights Network can help you find a Disability Rights Center in your state. The DRC has lawyers and advocates who can help you work with the school department to make sure they are living up to their responsibilities under the law.
  • The National Autism Society has chapters all across the nation who can help you educate the school system about your child’s disorder and provide some ideas of appropriate goals, objectives, devices and services.
  • PEATC, the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center, has a number of resources to connect you with other parents who are trained as educational advocates.

Amanda Morin is a parenting and education writer who draws on her 10 years of experience as a kindergarten teacher and early intervention specialist. She worked with and evaluated children with special-needs, taught parenting classes and was a service coordinator for children in therapeutic foster care. Amanda is also mother to three children, ages toddler to teen, one of whom has Asperger Syndrome.

The IEP Process for Parents of Children with Autism

I have a 9-year-old son with Asperger Syndrome. Luckily, or perhaps providentially, I also have a degree in education, years of experience working in early intervention and as a parent trainer and training in special education law, IDEA and FAPE.  As an educator my job has been to educate. As a parent my job has been to advocate. But I’ve found that there’s a lot of overlap; advocating involves a lot of educating, too.

It’s not easy to be an advocate for your child. It’s taken me out of my comfort zone many times. It sometimes involves confrontation, which few people enjoy. It involves knowing the chain of command–who to bring your concerns to, who to bring your concerns to next, and so on. And, most importantly, it involves knowing about your child’s rights and yours as a parent of a child with a disability.

As I said, I’m lucky that I have that knowledge, not just from being a parent of a child on the spectrum, but because of professional experience. I know how these meetings run, what my child qualifies for in terms of services and when I’m being “handled.” But not all parents have that background and, so, despite wanting to make sure their child has the very best education he deserves, they get lost in the sea of acronyms, abbreviations and egos.

What I have to offer other parents of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is certainly my own personal experience as a parent and a willing ear to listen.  I provide more than that, though. I talk to parents about the “I” in IEP standing for “individualized,” for when I say I have a child with Asperger Syndrome, I don’t want to hear “Oh, well, kids like that need….” There are no kids like that. My child is an individual with his own strengths and needs, just as your child is and the child next to him.

Free and Appropriate Education for my son means a different thing than it does for other children on the spectrum. There is not a set way to educate our children and as parents, we need to be strong enough advocates to say so.  But, in order to say so, there’s a lot you need to know about the special education system and how it can benefit your child.

Amanda Morin is a parenting and education writer who draws on her 10 years of experience as a kindergarten teacher and early intervention specialist. She worked with and evaluated children with special-needs, taught parenting classes and was a service coordinator for children in therapeutic foster care. Amanda is also mother to three children, ages toddler to teen, one of whom has Asperger Syndrome.